Charter school advocates celebrated some good news last week: Students attending New York City’s Success Academy charter schools outperformed every district in the state on last year’s annual standardized tests.
And we’re not just talking about a few percentage points.
Of the 5,800 Success Academy students in the third through eighth grade who took the test, 95 percent passed the math portion and 84 percent passed reading. In New York City’s traditional public schools, only 38 percent passed the math test and 41 percent passed the reading portion. Nearly all of the charter network’s students—95 percent—are children coming from minority families with a median income of $32,000.
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz said the test results prove charter schools can eliminate the racial achievement gap. She also took a dig at New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, with whom she’s had a long-running battle over education. New York City’s public school test scores did improve slightly over the year before, an incremental increase de Blasio touted.
“This is not acceptable,” Moskowitz said during a news conference last Thursday. “And to be clear, a 60 percent failure rate is not worthy of a celebration. It is a moment to stand up and say, ‘What is going on and how did this injustice occur?’”
Mark J. Perry, an economics and finance professor at the University of Michigan and an American Enterprise Institute scholar, calls Success Academy’s results “eye popping.” So why aren’t New York’s education leaders scrambling to replicate the charter network’s model?
First, Success Academy only hires non-union teachers, which puts it squarely in the crosshairs of powerful teachers unions. These unions don’t think charter schools should be able to fire teachers who aren’t doing their jobs. New York’s public schools have a policy of sidelining poor-performing educators in “rubber rooms,” where they get paid on average $10,000 more than classroom teachers—to do nothing. They aren’t good enough to return to teaching, but they can’t be fired. This year, thanks to a teacher shortage, some of the city’s worst teachers will be headed back to classrooms, probably in the schools that most need teaching talent.
Despite mounting evidence of New York City’s educational system failings, de Blasio won’t take on teachers unions, a powerful political constituency, Perry noted.
“Preservation of the status quo and a continuation of the current failed public school model, and preserving its power, are the primary concerns of the teachers unions and their administrative enablers, which now includes the new New York mayor,” Perry wrote in a recent blog post.
Charter schools are taking relentless criticism these days. The NAACP recently called for a moratorium on new charters and more government oversight. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten called charters “slightly more polite cousins of segregation.” Success Academy’s results prove otherwise, an inconvenient truth for charter opponents. Not all charter schools do as well, obviously, but they all have that potential. And creating the capacity for success is half the battle.